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May 02, 2017 08:42 AM EDT

MIT scientists have reached a breakthrough in the treatment of colon cancer through the use of gene editing, CRISPR. Using the tool, the scientists recreated tumors in mice that closely resembles human tumors allowing them to test new methods of treatment and therapy.

Just like the human colon cancer tissues, the gene-edited cancer tissues spread throughout the liver. The metastases is often the cause of death among colon cancer patients.

Omar Yilmaz, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of biology at MIT as well as a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, said that being able to sum up how these tumors spread from the colon to the liver is the missing piece in colon cancer research.

Before this new method, researchers used two types of models to study colorectal cancer. The first one is growing cancer cell lines in a lab dish and the other is to genetically engineer mice with cancer mutations. Both, however, had their limitations.

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More so, human colon cancer cells do not mutate all at once. Instead, they happen over time as the tumor progresses and becomes more aggressive and destructive. With the gene-editing tool, the scientists can now mimic that progression.

Through this method, scientists can further investigate the different aspects of colorectal cancer and the genes that are involved in the metastases. They can also test potential drugs using the technique. Yilmaz added that they will also be able to find out how other factors, such as diet, lifestyle, aging, and metabolism play a role in the progression and development of colorectal cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among American men and women. The risk of developing colon cancer among men is 4,7 percent and 4.4 percent in women. It is expected that there will be a total of 50,260 deaths because of colon cancer.

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